By Rep. Bryan Kaenrath
August 7, 2008
Gasoline prices, the cost of heating oil and wood, and the prevalence of poorly insulated homes and inefficient heating systems are a great concern for many Mainers as summer winds down and fall quickly approaches. More and more of my constituents are contacting me worried about how they, their families and their neighbors will make it through the cold winter without significant help from the municipal, state and federal government.
They are right to be concerned. This issue must be addressed at every level, and I will be talking to Governor Baldacci, my colleagues in the State House, Congressman Tom Allen and our U.S. Senators about what we can do to protect our neediest citizens from freezing in their homes, or being unable to afford to drive to work or medical appointments due to the high cost of gasoline.
Thankfully the state has created several programs to help Mainers lower their heating costs, access free or subsidized sources of energy and heat, and reduce the need to use fossil fuels. These state programs will not be enough, and we must all put pressure on the Federal Government to appropriately and adequately fund the Low Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
The Sentry recently printed an announcement from me and my Democratic colleagues encouraging our constituents to arrange appointments with People’s Regional Opportunity Program (PROP) to apply for LIHEAP. It is important for any of you who may be eligible for this program to apply as soon as possible in order to benefit from this program in the fall. LIHEAP provides money to help low-income homeowners and renters pay for heating costs. If your heat is included in your rent, you may still apply for LIHEAP. Please call PROP at 842-2988 x 5900 to apply for this program.
If you have less than one fourth tank of heating fuel or are in danger of having utility services disconnected and you have no way to pay your energy company, LIHEAP also may make an emergency fuel payment for you so that you will stay safe and warm.
PROP also works with the Maine State Housing Authority (MSHA) to coordinate a weatherization assistance program that provides grants for low income homeowners and renters to make improvements like insulation, weather-stripping, caulking and safety-related repairs. In Maine, approximately 150,000 households fall into the low-income guidelines.
MSHA also administers HELP, a revised Home Energy Loan Program, which provides loans of up to $30,000 at a fixed interest rate of 3.95% (4.194% Annual Percentage Rate) with up to 15 years to repay for a variety of home improvements that reduce energy consumption. Please contact MSHA to find out which local lenders are currently accepting applications.
I also encourage my constituents to contact the programs that can help you rely less on fossil fuels or reduce the costs of heating your home. There are several programs operated by Efficiency Maine that can help make your home heating system more efficient. Efficiency Maine is a statewide effort administered by the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to promote the more efficient use of electricity, help Maine residents and businesses reduce energy costs, and improve Maine's environment.
The Maine Home Performance program is an Efficiency Maine program which trains and certifies professional energy auditors who can provide a high-level analysis of a home’s energy loss and the potential for efficiency investments. The program links Maine homeowners with qualified building contractors who provide one-stop-shop access to a whole-house approach for energy efficient retrofit actions and guidance on low-interest loans.
Obviously it is not only families and individuals who are in need of help due to the high cost of gasoline and fuel oil. Many local small businesses also need all the help that they can get just to stay in business. Efficiency Maine, in partnership with the Finance Authority of Maine, has a low-interest loan initiative that provides businesses with fewer than 50 workers 3 percent fixed loans of up to $250,000 for installations that produce demonstrable energy savings. The loans will pay for up to 90 percent of the project. Past loans have financed a wind turbine, insulation for a commercial building, and several “Auxiliary Power Units” which drive down the amount of diesel fuel consumed by idling big-rig trucks.
Local organizations and schools can apply for a grant from the Voluntary Renewable Resources Fund. This program, funded through a voluntary check-off on electricity bills, provides grants of up to $50,000 for innovative or educational projects that make use of alternative energy sources. Recent grants include photovoltaic projects at Maine schools, a wind turbine, and rehabilitation of an historic tidal power facility.
These are only a few of the programs available to help Maine businesses and families with our high energy costs, but to learn more about these programs, or, if none of these programs match your needs, please go to Efficiency Maine or call 1-866-376-2463 to contact Efficiency Maine, MSHA at 1-800- 452-4668, or call me at 409-7137 to determine if another program might help you.
Rep. Bryan Kaenrath is serving his first term as a State Representative representing part of South Portland.